Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Book of Negroes #BookReview

Book: The Book of Negroes
Author: Lawrence Hill

After a bit of break, I’m back to reading African American history.

Most of us have a vague idea of how scores of Africans were sold in European and American markets. We are familiar with slavery through books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin or, in a more glorified form, in Gone with the Wind. We read these books, ‘It was terrible’, we say, we shake our heads and then we get on with life.

It’s not until a book like The Book of Negroes comes along, that the horror of it all sinks in. In its entirety. It’s then that we truly begin to understand, just a little bit, what it would have been like.

For that, this book, is a must read.

Set in the 18th-19th century, we hear the story in flashback through Aminata Diallo, daughter of a talented midwife and a jeweller.

While on her way home from a neighbouring village, 11-year-old Aminata is kidnapped. Then on begins a long and arduous journey for her. Along with a group of other village folk, she is yoked by the neck and made to walk.

Aminata befriends a young boy Chekura who is helping the kidnappers. He is sympathetic towards her, bringing her food and water.

After months of walking, goaded along with whip-lashes from their captors they reach the sea. They are then loaded onto ships that sail to Carolina. Ironically, Chekura is also put in along with other Africans, becoming a prisoner himself.

Aminata survives the harrowing ship voyage as also a slave rebellion and lands on the shores of Carolina. She is sold off to Appleby, a ranch owner. She’s a smart young girl, quick to pick up skills, eager to learn new ways and new languages. She has picked up midwifery from her mother and that renders her invaluable.

However, not her intellect, nor any of her skills can protect her from her fate as a slave. She’s beaten and raped and separated from her husband; her child sold off. She moves from Carolina to Nova Scotia and she survives, as does her dream of going back to her village in Africa.

What I thought of it

The Book of Negroes lays bare the cruel practice of Slavery in all detail. It talks about how people from Africa were kidnapped, coerced, shipped, treated worse than animals and bought and sold across America.

The writing is lucid and flows easily. It’s simple and it kept me turning the pages. It is the story that remains the hero of the book. Aminata’s journey is execptional and yet hundreds of millions of blacks faced the same fate, cheated over and over again of their right to exist as humans. Despite its heart-breaking subject, the book manages to maintain an underlying upbeat spirit, perhaps due to it’s protagonist.

Aminata’s character embues the book with optimism, rendering it readable

Right from the beginning it is clear that Aminata is a gifted child. She grows up to be smart and intelligent. Her skill at mid-wifery, her mother’s gift to her, and then later, the gift of education put her in a league above the other black people. It ensures for her, a better life than most others. Which is why the book doesn’t turn into a weep-fest. It did however make me wonder how much worse it would have been for the vast majority of other slaves who were illiterate, uneducated and barely skilled. Would they have had any bright spots in their lives at all? That was a frightening thought.

The African Diversity

We often make the mistake of clubbing the entire African continent as one entity. The book brought home its diversity. It was good to be reminded that there were multiple tribes with multiple languages, dialects and religions. Not every slave could even understand what another one was saying. Also, it was Africans who were capturing other Africans. So to think that all of them were victims would be wrong.

In the end the book is about humanity

On the surface of it, this is a story of the white man against the black, and yet in the end it is about respecting another human, no matter his race or colour. Also, to lay the blame solely at the door of Europeans or Americans would be wrong. Almost every race, at some point, has people trying to prove their supremacy and to undermine others for power or money. Like I pointed out earlier, a lot of Africans were involved in the slave trade too. Closer home in India, the caste system was just a variation of slavery as were practices like bonded labour. None of us are truly exempt from blame.

The book is a reminder that every human deserves to be respected.

Last thought: Read this for a glimpse of African history.

The Book of Fate #BookReview

Book: The Book of Fate
Author: Parinoush Saniee
Translated by: Sara Khalili

Young Massoumeh moves with her family to Tehran from the small conservative town of Qum. The older daughter from among five siblings (three brothers and two sisters), Massoumeh loves to study. Her father supports her, however her mysogynistic brothers and her mother are against it, only wanting her to get married. Insulting and hitting the girls of the family isn’t unusual.

Even with her limited freedom, modern Tehran, is exciting to Massoumeh. It’s here that she finds her best friend, Parvaneh, and also her first innocent crush.

Soon enough, her crush is discovered by her family. She’s beaten up mercilessly and married off to a man she hasn’t even seen.

Her luck turns when she finds that her husband is way more modern than her own family. He is a communist dissident struggling against the oppressive rule of the Shah of Iran.

He champions the equality of women and, to Massoumeh’s delight, he pushes her to further her studies. They have two sons and life seems good For a while but then her husband is found out by the Shah’s men and is caught and persecuted.

Left alone to care for her children Massoumeh soldiers along through the revolution. She finds a job to support her small family even as she continues to dream about finishing her University education. Even after her husband is released, life remains a struggle for her.

The Book of Fate is Massoumeh’s story as she navigates life in turbulent Iran.

My thoughts

Originally written in Persian, this book has been translated into a dozen languages. It was banned in Iran for a while.

The Book of Fate is as much a story of Iran as it is that of young Massoumeh.

The story of Iran

I was only vaguely aware of the history of Iran. The Book of Fate proved to be the perfect way to get to know it. Massoumeh’s fate is entwined with that of her country through her husband and her children.
There’s nothing poetic or romantic about the narrative. So if you’re expecting Shafakish descriptions you will be disappointed. The Book of Fate tells of life in Iran as it is without making it the focus of the book. Through Massoumeh we watch the Communists and the Conservative Islamic Leaders come together in the the revolution against the Shah of Iran. We watch as it becomes a success and Khomeini comes to power. And then we watch the crumbling of communist dreams and their terrible persecution under this new conservative rule. That is followed by the Iraq war.

Massoumeh’s character

I liked Massoumeh. She isn’t a revolutionary. She’d have been happy not having anything to do with the politics of the country. She doesn’t want her husband or her sons and daughter to become great rebels. She isn’t special or brave or heroic in a Joan-of-Arc kind of way. 

And yet she is. 

She is brave in an ‘every-day every-woman’ kind of way. She is modern in her thinking, in that she understands the importance of education, she understands the need for women to be independent. When her husband is taken prisoner she doesn’t mope around, she doesn’t reach out for help to either her family or her in-laws. She goes out and she finds work. She braves the jibes and barbs that come her way. And she takes care of her family. She is kind and thoughtful. And that is her strength. Her growth from a shy timid teenager to an independent woman was nothing short of miraculous.

She has flaws.

Of course she has flaws. Her upbringing and her years of conditioning hold her back. Like I said, she isn’t a revolutionary. She is conscious of what society thinks of her and expects of her, and she makes sure she remains a ‘good’ girl at all times.

To me, that made her relatable. I might not have agreed with her decisions (specially the ending of the book) but I could see where she was coming from.

This isn’t a book about the repression of women

A lot of reviews peg this one as a book on the repression of women in a patriarchal society. That would be true but only to a small extent. I like to think of it as a book about the triumphs of a woman in a patriarchal society. I’d like to see it more as an uplifting read than a heartbreaking one. Yeah there are heartbreaks, lots of them, and struggles too and yet I didn’t need to pity Massoumeh.

Last Thought: Read it for Massoumeh’s story and for a crash course in the history of Iran.

Such A Fun Age #BookReview #BookDiscussion

Book: Such a Fun Age
Author: Kiley Reid

As part of my pledge to read more books from diverse authors, I picked up Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I had seen it on more than one book list while I was trying to build my own. That, and the title which sounded light and happy, lead me to pick this one. Although the book wasn’t exactly light and happy, it wasn’t heavy either, it took me by surprise.

Such a Fun Age tells the story….

….of Emira – a black twenty-five-year-old, aimless and unambitious, yet to find her calling in life. In the meanwhile, she holds two part-time jobs, one of which is that of a baby-sitter for Alix Chamberlain’s three-year-old daughter Briar.

One evening while Emira is at the supermarket with Briar, a security guard detains her suspecting her of having kidnapped the child. A panicked Emira calls Briar’s father even as a man, Kelly, videotapes the incident.

The episode shakes up Alix who decides that she needs to take a greater interest in Emira’s life. Her stilted attempts at starting up a conversation puzzle Emira who has no need for this friendship. All she cares for is Briar, who she has a real and deep affection for. 

Alix’s interest gradually grows into something bordering on a crush as she constantly tries to talk to Emira, gifts her expensive wine, tries to decode her interest in music, and looks through her phone when she isn’t around.

Things come to a head when Alix crosses all boundaries to ‘manage’ Emira’s life.

My thoughts

Such a Fun Age is hard to review, not because it doesn’t have much to say but because it evokes too many thoughts and you just want to talk about it rather than analyse it objectively. Which is why this will be more of a book discussion than a book review. 

Bear with me, please.

We get to read the book through two perspectives, Emira’s and Alix’s

The difference between the two women couldn’t have been more stark and it’s not just about them being black or white. While Alix is a social media influencer, Emira doesn’t even have social media accounts. Alix is wealthy while Emira worries about her insurance. Reid brings out the difference beautifully, almost as if there can be no meeting point between the two.

That’s what it is at the beginning of the book.

Emira is as dismissive of Alix as Alix is of her. If anything, she doesn’t quite like her because Alix seems to prefer only her younger, calmer daughter while Emira’s ‘favourite human being’ is Briar, the older one precocious and talkative as she is.

While Alix changes after the supermarket incident, Emira doesn’t. On the contrary, she tries to pull away further because she doesn’t see babysitting as a permanent position. That is frustrating for Alix who is desperate to befriend her.

Also thrown into the mix, is Alix’s rather complicated childhood 

 When Alix was young, her family comes into a sudden inheritance and her parents go on a spending spree, to her acute embarrassment. Over the years, she learns to be comfortable with her wealth to the extent that she begins to take it, as well as the privilege that comes with it, for granted. Also, she turns into a bit of a snob. Of course all of this, without being aware of it.

When she sets about befriending Emira she starts looking at herself from Emira’s perspective and perhaps, on some subconscious level, the discomfort with her privilege returns, even while at a conscious level she remains unaware of it. With that, returns the embarrassment of her wealth. She takes great pains to convince Emira that she doesn’t splurge, that she’s a thrifty shopper, not that Emira is bothered at all.

Reid’s writing brings out all of that without actually mentioning any of it. That is exactly what good writing is. The undertones, the conscious and sub conscious motivations are all there for the reader to pick up on.

I have to talk about the incident at the supermarket

The reactions of the various characters to the incident took me by surprise. Emira has no wish to share the video with the world. The racist slur bothers her, but what troubles her more is her lack of a proper job which she feels would have given her some sort of standing in life, protecting her from incidents like that one. ’This wouldn’t have happened if you had a real f****** job,’ she muses to herself. In fact she is more worried that Briar would be taken from her than apalled at the incident itself. Perhaps because the scenario may not have been unusual for her. And that is just sad.

Alix and Kelly, (the man who records the incident) on the other hand are keen for some kind of a redressal. Alix stops shopping at the supermarket while Kelly suggests legal action or getting the guard dismissed, or going to the media.

I liked that this incident didn’t become the central point of the book in the way I had thought it would. That would have been predictable. Rather, it triggers something entirely unexpected.

The friendships in Such a Fun Age

Alix has a set of three friends who are almost cliquey in the way they interact. Even though Alix reaches out to them for every decision, specially when it has to do with Emira, I didn’t get a warm vibe from the group. It was somewhat similar with Emira who also has three friends she hangs out with. However, it is only with one of them (Zara) that I see a real connection.

The ending…

….was a little tame but then it was somewhat in keeping with Emira’s character. It would have been odd if she had suddenly turned into an ambitious go-getter with a high-flying job. However, with her knack for children, I’d seen her as a full-time nanny. Come to think of it the job Alix offered her was quite perfect. But I’ll let that go.

If you like books that explore diversity you might want to read my review of Girl, Woman, Other.

Good Intentions aren’t everything

That is my biggest takeaway. The worst situations in the book arise from the best intentions. There’s the white woman who calls for the security guard at the supermarket with the intention of protecting Briar.

Then there’s Alix who feels her interest in Emira gives her some kind of right to manage her life. So consumed is she with her own good intentions that she doesn’t bother to check if that’s what Emira wants. In fact, no one is bothered about what Emira wants, not Alix or Kelly or Tamra (Alix’s friend who is also black and so feels she can have a say in Emira’s ‘upliftment’).

Before I wrap up I have one small complaint (there always is one, right?)

It’s the dialogue. Look at this: “Why you tryna play one-drop rule right now?” I don’t know if this is how youngsters these days talk to each other but it didn’t work for me.

Also, I still haven’t been able to work out the thought behind the title.

That aside, Such a Fun Age is a wonderfully layered account making it hard to put characters into protagonist-antagonist brackets. It talks about race and class and privilege without getting heavy or preachy.

If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you’ve reviewed it leave your link in the comments and I’ll drop by.

Last Thought: If books on race and class interest you, this one is a must-read.

Girl, Woman, Other #BookReview

Women. 
Women of all shapes
Women of all sizes. 
Women of all ages and colours – black and white and all shades between.
Women of all sexes. Yes, that!
Women who aren’t women at all, women who are men, men who are women.
Women who refuse to be defined by this binary structure.
In Girl, Woman, Other


This is one beautiful book.

Girl, Woman, Other charts the lives of twelve British women of colour, their struggles and their wins. 

It begins with ….…

…..Amma’s story, a lesbian theatre person, actor and director. It is the opening night of her feminist play The Last Amazon of Dahomey. Among the audience, we find most of our characters, though we aren’t aware of it just yet. As we turn the pages we are introduced to them in turn.
The narratives overlap sometimes with the women showing up as cameos in others’ stories, taking centre stage in their own.

Amma is there again in the end, wrapping up the book at the After Party of the play along with most of the characters and we get to bid adieu to them all.

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My thoughts

I’ve had this book since December and I’ve started it more than once, then abandoned it each time after a few pages. This time around I decided to stick to it and I’m ever so glad! It evened out after the first fifty pages or so and then on, I found it hard to put it down. Each story is captivating in a whole different way.

The writing style…

…had me lost for a while. Written as poetic prose – prose written and expressed like free-flowing poetry without capitalisation or full stops – it takes a little getting used to. However a few pages down I stopped being hampered by it and began to enjoy its beauty.

The women (and I use that word very loosely)……

…..are flawed. Most of them carry the baggage of prejudices, some due to events in their lives, others purely due to their origin. There’s Bummi, insisting her daughter marry a Nigerian. There’s Shirley a ‘boring’ old school teacher and Carol the banker, successful yet never quite at ease with herself or her identity, no matter where she is. There’s Morgan a social media influencer who refuses to be tied down with man/woman tag. And many more.

I found myself invested in the characters, loving them despite, or perhaps because of their flaws. Evaristo builds each character so that I could see where they were coming from, why they acted a certain way and, when one understands a character, one gets to love them. Not all stories had happy ever afters, not in the conventional sense at least, yet none of them left me feeling dissatisfied.

The book has to be re-read

It just isn’t enough to read it once. I went back and read the first chapter after I finished and then I read Morgans chapter again, because that was my favourite. I will probably be reading bits and pieces, looking for the characters as they enter and exit stories other than their own.

A few things that didn’t seem right

There were some small bits that didn’t quite come together. For instance, there was a part where one of the characters, Morgan, gets into drug addiction, the serious kind. And then one day the reality of his situation sinks in and, while his parents are away on a vacation, he gives it up. Just like that. Evaristo makes it sound easy, too easy. In an almost similar repetitive sequence another character Carol, who seems to have fallen into a depression after she is raped, gets back to normal in the space of a paragraph. ‘I quote: It was like she woke up from like a bad dream..’ with no trigger, no help from anyone, nothing. People change, grow, get a grip on life, I understand that. However for it to happen in a flash seemed improbable.

Also, while I did love the characters, there were a few too many and I was constantly mixing them up, specially in the beginning. As the book progressed, however, they took on personality. Which is why I’ll reiterate, don’t let the beginning of the book stop you from moving ahead.

Despite all of that…

….the book forced me to re-evaluate my thoughts not just on women of colour but on all women, on sexuality and equality and the way people form connections and relationships. It brought home the fact that families come in many forms, that a lesbian woman and a gay man who are friends, can together have a child and that was a family too.

Girl, Woman, Other envelops you like a warm patchwork quilt of engrossing stories.

In one of her interviews, Evarista said she deliberately included twelve women as protagonists, that she wanted to include as many women as she possibly could. If there was a book that dispelled Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fears, of the dangers of a single story, this would very much be it.

Last thought: This booker winner must be read.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek #BookReview

Book: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Author: Kim Michele Richardson


I’d promised you (and myself) that I’d read and review The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek right after I read Moyes’ The Giver of Stars. The books are both based on women packhorse librarians of Kentucky and were said to be very similar in content. Finally, after wandering off a little bit, here I am.

The Story

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek tells the story of Cussy Mary Carter. Cussy suffers from a rare genetic disease that results in blue skin. She is called Bluet and is ostracised by the townsfolk, along with other ‘colored’ folks.

She joins the packhorse librarian initiative started by Eleanor Roosevelt, and brings books and other reading material to the people on the hills. Cussy loves books. The written word gets her pulse racing. She has read everything from Pearl S Buck to Aldous Huxley. She is perhaps the best-read person in the town. And yet, she is looked down upon, ridiculed and considered completely unworthy.

A curious doctor tries to find out the reason for her ‘blueness’ and succeeds too (It’s due to the deficiency of a particular enzyme). Bluet is cured for a while but hates the side effects of the drugs that include severe nausea and vomiting. Yet, so desperate is she to be a part of the mainstream of society that she goes along with it. However, the deeply ingrained prejudice against her doesn’t disappear with her blue colour. Finally, she chooses to stop trying to fit in.

Her work, hard and demanding as it is, is her only happiness. And that’s where she finds love too, though it comes at a cost.

What I thought of it

I’ll come straight to the point, without beating about the bush (did you get that?), and say that I loved the book.

The author tackles multiple issues, all close to my heart. She talks of racism and how cruel it was. It is even now, but back in the early nineties, it was way worse than we can ever imagine. It was sanctioned by law. For instance, there was a law prohibiting marriages between whites and coloureds.

Through The Book Woman, I got to know about the Blue people of Kentucky. I found out that they really did exist and also that there really was a place called Troublesome Creek.

And there’s more.

The authenticity

I’d give The Book Woman a hundred out of ten on authenticity. It is a wonderfully researched book. The tone, the language, the customs and traditions, all transport you to Kentucky of the early nineties.

Cussy, the Book Woman

I fell in love with the self-effacing Cussy. While she was the most docile woman you’d ever meet and also very conscious of her standing in the society (or rather the lack of it), she had a certain doggedness that made her persevere despite all odds. She traversed the most treacherously prohibitive terrain, through flowing rivers and heart-stopping narrow mountain trails to get to her readers. I loved how she zealously she picked out reading material requested by her readers. Her pleasure at the thought of their happiness was infectious. Also, I loved how hard she tried to get people to read, sometimes even tricking them into it. That was endearing.

The focus on books and love for reading

I loved how books were such an inherent part of the narrative. The love and longing for reading were touching. It was miraculous that the hunger people had for books, even young children, surpassed their physical hunger. One part of me tells me that’s unbelievable, impossible even, but another part of me wants to believe it – that the thirst for knowledge and the lure of reading surpasses physical needs.

The love story

Cussy finds love on the mountains. Not many pages are devoted to it, there is barely any romance, yet the love story is very real.

Richardson’s Book Woman vs Moyes’ Giver of Stars

It’s not right to compare two books but I had to do this because Richardson accused Moyes of plagiarising her book and that’s what led me to this wonderful read in the first place.

Here’s my review of the The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

I wasn’t convinced about the charges but the fact remains that the two books are very similar in content. They are, however, different in their treatment of the subject.

The Book Woman is way better researched, way more authentic. Cussy’s passion for books and reading is greater than that of all the women put together in The Giver of Stars and that makes the book so much more of a treat.

In Moyes’ book, the individual stories of the women took up a lot of space and that wasn’t all bad because I did love the stories, but their job as librarians didn’t get as much of a spotlight as I’d have liked. However, that also made the narrative more complex with many stories entwined together. The Book Woman, on the other hand, is the story of Cussy with a simple linear narrative.

If The Book Woman were a classic, The Giver of Stars would be the pop version, more fluff, more drama, easier to read and easier to connect with.

If you ask me which one you should read, I’d say why choose? Read both.

Last thought: Go for it.

The Girl You Left Behind #BookReview

Book: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes

That’s my second Jojo Moyes in a row and she’s fast redeeming herself. I know I know I’d said I’d read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, but The Girl You Left Behind was sitting there on my bookshelf begging to be read, and well, I couldn’t resist.

I thought I’d have a quick look you know, just to check if I needed to put Moyes back on my favourite-author list, but before I knew it I was sucked right in.

Books have a way of doing that.

Let me share the story so you know exactly how that happened

The Girl you Left Behind tells the story of two women in two different timelines. 

First, there’s Sophie, a proud and courageous Frenchwoman. Her story is set in 1916 during the German occupation of France in the First World War. She runs a small hotel along with her sister, and is forced to serve the German Kommandant and his men, much against her wishes.

Sophie’s husband (who is away fighting the war) was a painter and did a striking painting of hers that hangs in her hotel now. It catches the eye of the Kommandant who seems to be obsessed with it. Through it all, Sophie struggles to keep her family safe even as she tries to find her husband through the Kommandant. How far will she go?

Cut to London, 2006. Sophie’s painting is now owned by Liv Halston, who is mourning the recent loss of her husband. The painting is now worth a fortune, although Liv is unaware of it. To her, its value lies in the fact that it’s a wedding gift from her dead husband. Events then on, shake up Liv’s life as she struggles to keep ownership of the painting.

What I thought of it

I’ve read a few other books with two timelines and in each of them one of the two stories has stood head and shoulders above the other. Moyes’ book also suffers from the this problem, although the contrast wasn’t as stark.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me begin at the beginning. 

The book opens with Sophie’s story…

…. and I was completely captivated. Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres and Moyes brings it alive. The fear, the hunger and the cold. The shortages, the prejudices as also the sense of community, it was all there. And there was intrigue. Sophie’s interactions with the Kommandant made for compelling reading. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. It was riveting right up to the very end.

Then came Liv’s story…

…and the pace fell dramatically; as if sudden brakes had been applied on an enjoyable adventurous journey. I had to push myself to keep going and my mind kept wandering away, wondering why Moyes had to desert Sophie at all, why she even attempted to add Liv’s tale and water down a stunning narrative.

While Sophie’s romance with her husband Édouard Lefèvre (before he leaves for the war) is passionate and real, their life idyllic, Liv’s remains vague. When I think of her husband, David, all I can think of is a genius architect, not a loving husband. And that is why Liv’s loss doesn’t ring true even though Moyes takes great pains to try to convince the reader of it. 

That said, the story does come together towards the end. There’s a court trial and Moyes redeemed herself somewhat by the time I turned the last few pages. I still maintain Liv’s part could have been shorter.

The end..

…tied up neatly, a little too neatly, but I won’t complain, sucker as I am, for happy endings. Moyes seemed to be making up for Me Before You :-).

The title of the book..

… fitted both heroines beautifully. Sophie (as ‘the girl who was left behind’) pines for her husband, who, I have to add, was an adorable character and a perfect foil to Sophie. In the other story, Liv is the one who is ‘left behind’ and cannot forget her dead husband. It seems only right then, that the painting with that title holds both narratives together.

It may sound presumptuous to comment on a bestselling author but this book could have done with better editing. Just a bit of tweaking could have made a difference.

PS: If you’ve read the book …

….. do tell what purpose Mo served by being in it. I thought she ate up too many pages without adding a whit to the story or even supporting it in any way whatsoever.

Also, since I mentioned Sophie’s husband earlier, I have to add he was my favourite character in the book even though he’s barely in it. His letters to Sophie were enchanting. His bear-like joyful personality leaps up from the letters. I’d have given the world to see that drawing of his – the bear in a French army uniform with Sophie by his side.

Last Thought: This isn’t a perfect book but I’d still recommend it if you like Historical Fiction.

The Giver of Stars #BookReview

Book: The Giver of Stars
Author: Jojo Moyes

I’ve had an up and down kind of relationship with Jojo Moyes. First I read Me Before You and I cannot ever put into words what I felt for that book. Let me just say that it made me laugh and cry like no love story ever did. This, despite my passion for happy endings.

Then I read the sequel After You and was sorely disappointed. It was just so very mediocre that I lost interest in the Louisa’s life as well as in the author. Then someone (and I cannot for the life of me remember who it was), strongly recommended The Giver of Stars. And because she felt the same about the other two books, I trusted her and I’m glad I did.

Here’s what the book is about

Alice, an Englishwoman, marries the handsome Bennet Van Cleve, more to escape her dull, restricted life in England, than for love, and moves to Kentucky, USA. However, she soon realises that with her domineering father-in-law always around, she had exchanged one prison for another.

When she gets the opportunity of becoming part of a girl gang of pack-horse librarians she signs on eagerly. These women travel long distances on horseback, through sun, rain and snow, carrying with them books to be delivered to isolated houses on the hills.

The library is headed by Margery, a strong independent woman and Alice is at once awed and enchanted by her devil-may-care attitude. Beth, Izzy and Sophie make up the rest of the group. Through their books the women open doors not just to knowledge but also to comfort and camaraderie.

They become an inseparable team, a support system for each other, specially for Alice, who has to struggle hard on the personal front.

Partly because Margery supports Alice and partly because of her love for the mountains and the mountain-folk, she comes into a confrontation with the Van Cleves who own the largest coal mines of the area. The story takes on a dangerous turn when she is accused of murder.

What I thought if it

The book is set in Kentucky during the times of the Great Depression. It intrigued me to find out that pack-horse librarians really existed way back then. I couldn’t help but marvel at these brave women who travelled 14-15 hours a day, four-days a week to bring learning and pleasure to the hills.

The setting

…is gorgeous. Moyes brings alive the raw beauty of the mountains – the vastness of the terrain in all its magnificence, harsh yet beautiful, the clip-clop of horse hooves and the chirping of birds, the sounds and the silences, as the women rode in solitude. She describes the changing seasons in all their glory – the heat, the intense cold as also the angry rains.

Her descriptions of life on the hills are real. While she doesn’t romanticise or glorify it, she doesn’t make it pitiful either.

She talks of small-town life with equal authenticity, the dullness of it as also the the gossip-mills that never stop churning and feuds that go on for generations. 

The story

…proves that Moyes is a master story-teller. The library is the heart of the book. Interwoven with it are personal stories of the women with their individual dreams and struggles. The narrative moves from Alice to Margery seamlessly including a host of characters as they go along. The two romances are sweet in their own different ways.

Although the story takes time to be set into motion and nothing much happens in the first few pages, I was happy soaking in the setting and acquainting myself with the characters. This isn’t a pacey read, but Moyes keeps one engrossed.

The characters

…were well crafted. I liked that most of them had strong, credible backstories. Obviously Alice and Margery were my favourites. I specially loved the growth of Alice’s character. From a sedate, timid, Englishwoman, constantly cowed down by her father-in-law, to a rebel ready to take on the world for the people she loved and believed in – the transformation was wonderful.

What I didn’t like

In Moyes’ book black is black and white is white with a fair bit of stereotyping (the rich mean mine owner). That doesn’t happen in real life and it pretty much reveals the end. While I loved the characters, I’d have liked them to be more layered. A little bit of grey could have added depth and intrigue to the story.

Also, the language didn’t seem to be in sync with time the book was set it. I could have been reading any book set in modern times.  

My biggest grouse was with the ending.

***** Spoiler Alert*****

This last bit might have spoilers so stop here if you’re wary of them. And though I’m trying to keep it to a minimum I can’t help but rant just a tiny bit.

The court-case as the grand finale was an inspired idea, but the end was too easy, too tame. Also, had I been the judge or jury, it wouldn’t have convinced me at all, and lastly, it in no way assured me that Van Cleve was well and truly vanquished. 

That’s all I’ll say. If you’ve read the book I’d love to know what you though of it, specially the end.

Despite the end, I’d recommend The Giver of Stars as a good read.

*************

Last thought: A read well worth your time.

After thought:

Moyes faced plagiarism charges after her book was published. Kim Michele Richardson accused her of plagiarising her novel The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.

And so that’s my next read. A little bit to check up on the claims of plagiarism but more because I don’t want to come back from the mountains of Kentucky or let go of the lives of pack-horse librarians.

The Silent Patient #MicroReview

Book: The Silent Patient
Author: Alex Michaelides

This is going to be a micro review because the whole world has read this one and loved it. I want to put this out here for people who’re waiting for a review from the wholeworld+1 th reader. Here I am.

Six years ago Alicia, an artist of repute, tied her husband to a chair, shot him six times in the face, slit her wrists and waited for the police. She then went quiet and refused to speak. Six years later she is housed at The Grove, a facility for mentally disturbed patients and she still hasn’t spoken, not one word.

Enter Theo Faber, a criminal psychotherapist. He gives up his job at a thriving facility to come to The Grove. He is intrigued by Alicia, to the point of obsession and is determined to get her to talk. For that, he is ready to flout all rules and go to any lengths. He looks for clues in her past and in her art, he investigates her relationships with her dead husband, her agent, her friends and family.

All this while, he also struggles to hold together his troubled marriage.

If you like thrillers, you might also like Lock Every Door.

Having heard a lot about the book, I had put aside an entire weekend for it and I’m glad I did because it turned out to be unputdownable.

The story unravels through Theo’s narration in the first person and, parallelly, through pages of Alicia’s diary. We come to know that Alicia had a difficult past and suffered from some form of depression. However, her relationship with her husband wasn’t troubled at all. That’s when we begin to wonder why she shot him. Did she discover something that led her to take the drastic step? And also, Did she shoot him at all?

The suspense builds up through the pages as Theo begins to unravel the layers of her mind.

Even though I caught on to the end a little before it came, I found it spectacular. That’s just how it should be in a psychological thriller. And then I wanted to re-read the entire book with the end in mind.

Last thought: A pacey psychological thriller that’s worth your time. Do read it if you haven’t already.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it for the prompt ‘A Crime Thriller’.

All The Bright Places #BookReview

Book Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places had been on my TBR for a long long time. Finally, I got to it over the lockdown.

Quickly, here’s what it’s about

This is the story of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Theo Finch is the quintessential misfit, the ‘freak’ of the school while Violet Markey is a passionate writer and one of the most popular girls. While Theo has a history of depression, Violet has recently lost her sister in an accident leading her to withdraw into herself.

The two meet on top of the school bell tower teetering at its edge. Finch talks to Violet, persuading her to get down and in the process saves himself too. Later, they are paired off for a geography assignment ‘Wander’ where they have to discover and document the wonders of the state of Indiana. As they journey through the state, slowly, reluctantly (for Violet) they strike up a friendship as they try to heal each other.

What I thought of it

The story unfolds through two perspectives with Finch and Violet taking up the narrative, in turn, giving us a glimpse of both their points of view.

Let me first talk about our two protagonists

Finch is fascinating. We get to know early on that he is battling depression/bipolar disorder. He has many personalities hidden away inside him. There’s this thing he does – every few days he takes on a personality and then he proceeds to talk, walk and act as that person would. That had me intrigued. I do get though, that it might have appeared very confusing to people around him, specially to Violet. Once, in a wave of frustration, she demands which one is his ‘real’ self.

Finch obsesses about suicide, researching is, writing about it, even experimenting with it often, constantly on an edge.

He’s a bit of a bully when it comes to Violet. It annoyed me but it works in her favour because he drags her out of her depression, pulling her along on the path to recovery, slowly but surely.

In stark contrast to Finch, Violet’s character seems rather dull. While he hides way his dark periods under a flamboyant devil-may-care attitude, she is quiet and withdrawn. I couldn’t connect with her character; which is strange because I loved the relationship she shared with her sister and I could empathise with her emotions as she tries to come to terms with the latter’s death. Yet, she lacked the layers and depth that Finch had. 

In any case, the more flawed a character the more interesting it is, and Finch has a definite advantage there.

The idea of ‘Wander’

The idea of wandering around your own city or state is charming. I loved the places Theo and Violet discovered. We often take our surroundings, our towns, cities and states for granted. Every young person should try to take up this assignment and rediscover his place of birth, should try to look at it as a tourist would.

Violet’s blog

Violet has a blog, along with her sister, which she abandons after the latter’s death. As she recovers she decides to launch another web-magazine titled Germ that has everything a young adult might need – from fashion and style to counselling and help for mental issues. 

What’s even more fascinating is that the Germ Magazine for young adults really does exist. Taking the idea beyond the book and making it real is fantastic.

Tackling young adult mental health issues

All the Bright Places tackles the issue of mental health among young adults with depth and subtlety. It’s heartbreaking to watch how helpless Finch is in the face of his depression, how desperately he wants to stay ‘awake’. He puts on a cheerful front but he longs to be understood. 

“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

I hated the near-absence of his mom. I get that she had a lot to deal with in her own personal life but I couldn’t wrap my head around the way she left Finch to his own devices, knowing that he had mental health issues. I was so so sorry for him. It made me sad to watch a smart and intelligent boy having to struggle to stay afloat like he did.

On the contrary, Violet has a very clear advantage in how invested her parents are in her well-being, how clued in they are to her every mood, how they celebrate every small sign of recovery. And that is perhaps why she stands a better chance at recovery.

I have to admit I found the end disappointing. It left me feeling angry and frustrated.

The title of the book

I thought a lot about the title and what it meant to convey. This definitely isn’t a ‘Bright’ book. In fact it’s rather morbid. That said, there are some genuinely warm, happy moments and that is perhaps what the title implies: that all of us have some ‘bright places’ even though darkness might lurk around the edges. Or perhaps it implies Violet’s and Theo’s wanderings and the ‘Bright’ places they encounter along the way. I’d love to hear what you thought if you have read this book.

All the Bright Places: The film

Obviously, I had to go and look up the film after I was done with the book. And obviously, I found it wanting. It was too slow for my liking. I did like Justice Smith, who plays Finch, perhaps because of my bias towards that character. As for Violet, she was even more uninspiring than the one in the book.

Last thought: Not the perfect book to read during a lockdown but if mental health issues intrigue you, you’ll like this one.

The Lemon Tree Cafe #BookReview

Book: The Lemon Tree Cafe
Author: Cathy Bramley

Cathy Bramley is a familiar author. I had read The Plumberry School of Comfort Food and loved it. That’s why it was with a sense of happy anticipation that I started on The Lemon Tree Cafe. I expected a sweet romance with a generous dose of food (going by the title). And I did get that, but was that enough to make it a good read? Do read on to find out.

You might also like The Plumberry School of Comfort Food by the same author.

The Story

Rosie Featherstone is a high-flying social media professional. When she’s asked to airbrush a model’s picture she refuses to do so and quits her job. At a bit of a lose end, she begins to assist her Nonna (that’s her maternal grandmother) who owns a small village cafe. In the process she not only rediscovers her Italian roots but also heals her deepest wound even as she unravels some dark secrets of her Nonna’s past.

What I liked

I’ve already said the book had all my favourite ingredients.

The very setting makes it a winner

The tinkle of bells at the Cafe door announcing a customer, the smell of herbs and coffee and freshly baked cookies, a sunny conservatory full of lemon trees – I could see exactly why it would seem like a safe haven to Rosie.

Then there’s village life with it’s close-knit community

…that’s warm and sweet, the quiet ease of it, where everyone knows everyone, where people accept each other’s quirks. Idyllic, right? Specially after the hustle of Rosie’s city job. I liked the way the community comes together to take on Garden Warehouse, the giant chain of stores that threatens all their businesses. And also how they reach harmony in the end.

And of course there was food

Hot Espresso and Blueberry Crumble Cake, freshly baked Pizza and Panini sandwiches. Delicious!

The side characters were endearing

….though one too many. What’s better, however, was that some of them who were side characters in Plumberry took centre stage here. I love when that happens.

Most importantly, the book attempts to tackle the very relevant concept of consent.

What didn’t work for me

After I finished the book I found out that this was first published as a four-part ebook. I presume some of the hiccups that I found in the storyline resulted from that format. 

Parts of the story that were completely irrelevant to the plot

It seemed like these ideas were put into the narrative but then the author forgot to take them forward leaving them half-baked and hanging. They could have been completely removed without affecting the story.

There was a bit of a scene where Rosie’s sister Lia lashes out at her in a fit of sibling rivalry. There were no indications of it coming on and no indications of it afterwards too. It just seemed unnecessary.

There was another part where Rosie finds two of Nonna’s ‘trusted’ helps stealing from the till. The author does offer some justification but it in no way helped along the narrative. If they did need the money they could have approached Rosie, if not Nonna. However, they go on working at the Cafe as if the incident hadn’t happen.

Lack of consistency in the characters

This is a related issue also probably stemming from the the fact that the book was written in parts. For instance in the early part of the book Nonna is portrayed as absentminded to the point of eccentricity (she was once found asleep on an upturned bucket) but after the first few chapters there’s little indication of this absentmindedness. In fact she seems quite sharp and capable specially towards the end where she takes care for her partner, Stanley.

Too many characters and too many plot lines that ended up diluting the story

Even the romance came in fits and starts because there were just so many other things and people the author needed to carry forward. And that watered down the romance making it sound obligatory.

Oh and here’s my biggest complaint..

Rosie connects with the model, Lucinda Miller, whose picture she had refused to airbrush and in that very first conversation, over that one single phone call, Lucinda shares her life story, her forthcoming project, her deepest insecurities, her doubts and fears. That seemed highly unlikely to me. 

Sigh!

I almost feel sorry for having criticised a book which I actually enjoyed. Perhaps I over-analysed it. In my defence, I have to add that sometimes one might like a book despite its many flaws. Sometimes all that matters is how a book makes you feel. While The Lemon Tree Cafe might not have a life-changing impact it certainly gave me some hours of reading pleasure. And that does count for something.

Last thought: An easy happy read for when you need a break from routine.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it for the prompt ‘a book on food’.